Floating Playgrounds

By staff March 1, 2007

Sarasota’s sapphire waters and gentle coastline provide a perfect playground for the luxurious lifestyle enjoyed aboard private yachts. Welcome aboard to lavishly appointed staterooms and gleaming decks of varnished hardwoods, where owners host intimate dinner parties, cocktail hours and fabulous vacations to exotic ports of call. And while yachts are defined as any boating vessel longer than 32 feet, they may actually be less about mere length than about taking the full measure of life. Certainly their owners all have a good story to share. Say hello to a handful of Sarasota yachtsmen and their ravishing seaworthy beauties.

When John Tendall was five years old, his parents tied a dinghy to their dock on White Bear Lake, Minn., and allowed their young son to float around during cocktail parties in the back yard. Those happy hours playing on the water may have been designed as babysitting, but they sparked Tendall’s lifelong love affair with boats. Today, Tendall and his wife, Michael, navigate Sarasota Bay and beyond in their gleaming new 42-foot Meridian yacht and enjoy the good life with the wind at their backs and the crimson sunsets spread out before them.

“I named her Archangel, for my wife,” explains Tendall, “and I’m just thrilled with everything about her. Her lines are good, she handles beautifully, and her styling is elegant. The open feel of her salon appealed to me; and for her size, she offers a great deal of living space. We can take her out for an afternoon and have lunch someplace or head for the Bahamas and spend a month. She’s the boat I always wanted.”

Archangel is Meridian model No. 391, featuring two spacious berths, a dinette and fully equipped galley, an ascot pit and a salon with luxurious couch and club chairs all above the water line, with walls of beautiful windows framing the view. Two sliding doors offer easy access from exterior decks to the ship’s interior living area, and a rear seating area is under cover. Tendall added a Bimini top to expand exterior space under cover and special-ordered all cushions and upholstery in solid white vinyl in lieu of the standard blue and white stripe. He also changed out the electronics and installed a customized package that includes a complete weather system with satellite coverage, radar and full color in order to track storms and monitor conditions.

Meridian just came out with this model in December of 2005, and Tendall  took delivery of his beautiful new acquisition in August. He spends countless enjoyable hours aboard Archangel, polishing the woodwork, coiling lines and setting her to rights, and has hired a deckhand to come in twice a month to clean and wax the exterior. And while he’s been spotted in a blue blazer and silk tie in classic yachting style, Tendall is more often found in khaki shorts and Docksiders, at the helm and setting his own course.

“I’m a casual guy, and I do not wear ascots,” he says with a laugh. “If you see me dressed up, I’m probably taking my wife to the awards dinner at the Bird Key Yacht Club or the holiday cruise banquet at South Seas Plantation.”

Currently, Tendall is acting commodore of Bird Key Yacht Club, an extremely lively group of boating enthusiasts who head out to sea every month for planned excursions. “We sail up and down Florida’s west coast,” Tendall explains, “heading north to yacht clubs in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater and then south to Useppa and Sanibel. Anywhere from 10 to 26 boats take part in these excursions, as we try to find interesting places to visit and different locations to experience.” 

Typically, marinas cluster the BKYC fleet together and members hold potluck suppers preceded by “docktail” parties. Many boaters, the Tendalls included, carry little fold-up bicycles on board and, once settled in their slips, set out on land for sightseeing trips, dinner reservations and exercise. Travels to distant destinations are usually accomplished with two or three boats grouped together, at speeds that satisfy captains and increase fuel efficiency. Some like to run in the Gulf if weather permits, while others prefer making the journey via the Intracoastal Waterway, or “inside.”

Formerly a sailor, Tendall kept his 41-foot Morgan at a St. Thomas marina and sailed the cool blue waters of the British Virgin Islands for a week or two every spring and summer. Now he keeps his yacht right behind his house and can take her out whenever he wishes. The Tendalls are currently planning an extended trip to the Florida Keys and the Bahamas, and Tendall has been pleasantly surprised by his wife’s enthusiasm.

“Michael always liked our little power boats and she was a good sailor,” he says, “but Archangel is her favorite. I think she’s even more excited about this boat than I am.”

The Tendalls enjoy taking people to lunch at one of any number of waterfront restaurants along Sarasota Bay and recently hosted a sit-down dinner for eight aboard Archangel, serving grilled chicken that John had prepared dockside. Twilight cruises are another excellent opportunity to gather friends together and share stories.

But one of the most memorable parties was the christening of their vessel on Useppa Island. “Dave Taylor, our good friend and rear commodore at Bird Key Yacht Club, presided over the ceremony, with 22 friends in attendance,” says Tendall. “We christened her at my wife’s favorite spot at Useppa, drank a toast to King Neptune seeking fair winds and good fortune to all who board our boat, and sealed the pact with sparkling libations. The champagne flowed, tall tales were told and as the sun dipped into the Gulf, we recorded a very special memory.”

Some are drawn by the destination, while others find their joy in the journey. Bill Steinberg falls into that latter group, and so it was fitting that he chose a vessel designed for durability rather than speed. Steinberg captains a 40-foot Mariner trawler, made in Shanghai with a semi-displacement hull and a strikingly beautiful interior. The yacht features a large salon, galley and dining room with stairs leading down to two staterooms, the master bedroom fore and the guest quarters aft. Sink, stove and refrigerator are starboard, with a dining area on the port side. Dual controls at the main helm and flying bridge allow Steinberg to captain his ship from either position at a top speed of 15 knots and a typical traveling speed of eight or nine knots for maximum fuel efficiency.

 “I love the challenge of wind and varying weather conditions, the porpoises, all of it,” explains Steinberg. “For me, the best part of boating is the time spent traveling, so a trawler was an obvious choice. And I fell in love with all of that gorgeous teak used for her interior.”

Steinberg ordered his trawler through a broker and took possession in April. He and wife Marie Claire have already made trips to Nassau, Bimini, Useppa, Sanibel and Captiva and are contemplating making The Grand Loop, which winds up the eastern seaboard through the Erie Canal to the Great Lakes and back south via the mighty Mississippi, in early fall.

“I need to buy a new dinghy and a few smaller accessories, but basically, she’s already outfitted for extended trips,” says Steinberg. “There’s an electric stove and a generator that permits us to run the air conditioner while anchored. We even have a covered storage area that my wife calls the back porch.”

Originally a sailing enthusiast, Steinberg took up boating in 1980 on a 30-foot sailboat he kept for five years. The next investment was a 35-foot motor sailor called Nauticat that he sailed down from Chesapeake Bay. While he loved the boat, she drew over six feet and was simply not amenable to short day sails or the shallow Gulf waters of the West Coast.

So Steinberg sold his sailboat and started researching yachts. He became intrigued by the history of trawlers used for net fishing and then fell in love with the model designed by Mariner. “I named her the Marie Claire because she is beautiful and so is my wife,” explains Steinberg. “And my wife likes her because she’s more comfortable than the sailboats, more spacious, and we have no problems finding wind.”

Steinberg captains his vessel himself and dismisses the stereotypical yachting experience where one sits around in white pants and sips a crisp gin and tonic while a crew does all of the work. “The only part of that picture that works for me is the gin,” he jokes. “We do carry a bit of that on board.”

The Steinbergs also love to host parties aboard the Marie Claire, like the Fourth of July celebration they staged last summer. “My wife is French, so our parties feature pounds of imported cheeses like fancy Roqueforts and brie, cases of French wine, wonderful breads from the bakery and platters of pastries,” he explains. “I have a slide-out bar stocked with premium liquors where I can play bartender. We invited 25 guests aboard and we all, ate, drank, joked, laughed and then enjoyed a bird’s-eye view of the fireworks.” Docked just a few slips in from open water, Steinberg’s trawler has a unique vantage point from her dockside berth and moves into the open bay with ease. The Marie Claire’s galley is large enough for a standing refrigerator, which is filled with wine. “On many occasions, the boat is a floating cocktail party,” laughs Steinberg. “People love to party on the water.”

When Dick Rivera jumped from a 40-foot Sea Ray to a 72-foot yacht, more than a few eyebrows were raised. But Rivera was acting on some very good advice.

“A good boating buddy revealed the sad truth that most boaters spend their lives moving up a little bit in size here and a little bit in size there until they finally get the boat they want and it’s too late to really enjoy the thing,” says Rivera. “My friend urged me to just go for what I really want now, right now. And he made sense.”

So Rivera and his wife traveled with another couple down to the Miami Boat Show to take a look around. The guys drove straight to the event in one car and the women took another car, allowing them to stop and shop along the way.

Rivera’s head was turned by a Marlow Explorer 72 Classic; and, as luck would have it, David Marlow himself, designer and company CEO, was on hand to show Rivera each facet and fine detail of his pride and joy. “For about two hours he gave me a personal showing, and then I called my wife in the other car,” recalls Rivera. “I told her I bought a boat and now was trying to figure out a way to pay for it.”

Rivera was suddenly the proud owner of Rubicon, a luxury motor yacht featuring three spacious staterooms with one king bed in the master, one queen bed and two twin beds in the two guest rooms, three full baths, a pilot house, a galley, dining room, salon, expansive outdoor seating, a sun pad and flying bridge with duplicate controls.

The flag-blue hull, sleek lines and sophisticated silhouette generate compliments each time they pull into a marina. “She handles well, she is beautifully equipped, she is a pleasure,” says Rivera. “Everyone notices her and she gets a lot of attention, but fellow boaters can really appreciate the design.”

Thus far, Rivera and his wife, Leslie, have taken her from Clearwater to the Tortugas on the west coast and from Amelia Island to the Florida Keys along the Atlantic coastline. The Riveras lived aboard their yacht while their downtown Sarasota condominium was completed and are now contemplating a cruise to Chesapeake Bay. They employ a full-time captain with extensive mechanical knowledge because Rivera doesn’t want to deal personally with engine problems or maintenance issues. “I enjoy being at the helm and I do captain the boat,” he says, “but when it comes to fixing the engine, I would rather have a glass of wine.”

Favorite accessories aboard their yacht include a dinghy that ferries them back and forth, Leslie’s Vespa motorcycle and their boxer, Stella. The dog ventured to sea as a nine-week-old puppy and grew up on the deck, so now she’s their constant companion.

During the 2005 Florida Winefest, the Riveras offered a dinner party for 10 aboard Rubicon for auction. A couple from Orlando bought the event and brought eight friends to Sarasota with hearty appetites and high expectations. “We welcomed them aboard at Marina Jack, where we keep her, and our captain set out for a slow cruise to Big Pass,” describes Leslie. “Dick and I supplied cocktails and wine, served them and made sure Jimmy Buffet music was playing. We catered the dinner with chef Mel from Whole Foods, and the guests were treated to all manner of fancy finger foods, including miniature lamb chops, grilled asparagus, cheese puffs and more. As dinner was finishing, our captain cruised through Big Pass and we emerged into the open Gulf. He timed it perfectly, because the sun was just about to set.

“None of the guests had ever seen a sunset from the deck of a boat, and they were just ooohing and ahhhing. The whole evening turned out to be perfect, and we’re going to offer the same thing for this year’s auction.”


A language of their own. When enthusiasts speak of “the Harbor” and “the Vineyard” they’re talking about Bar Harbor and Martha’s Vineyard. (Many Sarasota yachts spend winters in Sarasota Bay and head to Maine and Massachusetts for the summer.) “Six in the islands and six in the Med” refers to to dividing time between the Caribbean, where yachts go for the winter, and the Mediterranean, the place to be from May to September.

Talking points. Berth, beam, draft and displacement are code for “Just how big is your boat?” Yacht owners never talk price but love to discuss design details, right down to the kinds of inlaid woods (cherry, teak and mahogany are preferred) and the configuration of sun decks and salon furniture.

Showboats. The top boat shows in Florida take place in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and Palm Beach, while the Cannes International Yacht & Boat Show is Europe’s largest in-water event.  Seattle, San Diego and Newport attract aficionados of beautiful boats, and Monaco, St. Barts, Genova, Athens and Sydney are centers of innovative yacht design.

Luxury appointments. Because yachts call for accessories, from custom-built tenders to fine furnishings to custom-designed china, crystal, silver and linens, dozens of companies are creating fine products for these luxurious floating living quarters. Owners have their favorite marine products companies and tend to be fiercely loyal.

Size matters. Yachts start at 32 feet and go up. A 40-foot vessel will typically have tank capacity for some 400 to 600 gallons of diesel fuel. The trend is for bigger and showier yachts. Marina Jack is home to several vessels measuring 180 feet in length, while the largest yacht in the world is the Al Salameh, measuring in at 456 feet and priced to sell at $194 million.

Floating vacations. Some yachts are available for charter with a full-time captain and crew, professional chef and amenities ranging from Jacuzzis and jet skis to kayaks to karaoke equipment. Rates can go as high as $140,000 per week, depending on which yacht and where you travel.

Ready to buy? A yacht broker facilitates sales and purchases while providing invaluable information about manufacturers and market values. Sarasota Yacht & Ship Services is the oldest brokerage in the Sarasota area, specializing in sales of new and previously owned vessels.

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